Heading into the final weekend of the regular season, the Michigan hockey team had not won a game all season in which it had trailed heading into the third period.
No. 11 Penn State was practically a lock in those games. The Nittany Lions were 17-2-2 when leading after two periods; Michigan was 0-12 when trailing.
But two turnovers at the wrong time left the Nittany Lions gasping in a 3-2 loss to the Wolverines on Friday night at Yost Ice Arena.
The second of Michigan junior Tony Calderone’s two goals tied the game and Brendan Warren netted the decisive score for the Wolverines (12-18-3, 5-12-2-2), which have won three of their last four and were seeking to avoid their worst season since 1985-86. That team, the second for coach Red Berenson, was 12-26.
Defensemen took care of the Penn State scoring, with goals for Kris Myllari and David Thompson. Peyton Jones made just 14 saves as the Nittany Lions dominated the shot count 37-17.
Hayden Lavigne put up a wall in front of the Wolverine net with his 35 saves.
Two odd-man rushes decided the game in the third period.
Calderone took care of the first one 2:23 into the period, converting on a 2 on 1. Then the Wolverines grabbed the lead when Thompson fired a shot from the blue line that was blocked by Warren and turned into a breakaway for the Arizona Coyotes’ draft pick 5:25 into the final frame.
“We made two terrible turnovers in the third period and it cost us the game,” Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky told the media in Ann Arbor. “I thought we played well, but you know what? Against a skilled team, and Michigan has skill, they’re going to capitalize on 2 on 1’s and 2 on 0’s.”
Myllari barely beat the horn to end the first period to notch the game’s first score, firing an off-balance shot from the point that found the top corner. It was the freshman’s seventh goal of the year.
“I thought it was a huge goal,” Gadowsky said. “It looked like it all the way up until the third.”
Calderone knocked in a rebound to get the Wolverines on the board early in the second period.
Thompson then gave Penn State (21-10-2, 10-8-1) the lead again late in the second, firing a soft shot from the point that found the top corner.
The Nittany Lions also struggled on the power play, going 0 for 4 against a Wolverines team that ranks 44th out of 60 teams in the nation in penalty killing (80.7 percent).
The Penn State loss, coupled with the results of two other games around the Big Ten, affected the conference standings. Minnesota won to lock up the regular-season title, Wisconson lost but clinched second place thanks the Lions falling, and Ohio State, which beat the Badgers, jumped into third place. If the standings hold Saturday night, it would mean Penn State and Michigan would tangle again in the first round of the conference tournament next Thursday.
Saturday night’s regular-season finale also turns into a must-win game of sorts for Penn State as it tries to stay in the hunt for an NCAA tournament berth.
“The good news is, it’s never too late in the season to learn lessons,” Gadowsky said, “and we learned a big one.”